Hamilton’s joy of earning the No. 1 seed in the state boys volleyball tournament was quickly muted when coach Jeff Bader saw who his team would line up with in the second round.
Bader knew how dangerous No. 17 Mesa was despite its double-digit seed, and his reservations almost came to fruition on Saturday.
Hamilton cruised in the first two games and then had to hold on for dear life in a 25-20, 25-17, 20-25, 21-25, 15-12 victory over the visiting Jackrabbits to advance to the state quarterfinals.
The Huskies will face No. 8 seed Boulder Creek on Thursday.
“They were the one team I didn’t want to play in the second round,” Bader said. “They’re the hottest team around right now.”
Hamilton led just 12-11 in the fifth game but reeled off three of the last four points to advance.
Mesa has only one senior and coach Anthony Millanes was proud of the way his team battled after dropping the first two games. It was the second match of the day for the Jackrabbits, who defeated No. 16 seed Canyon del Oro 25-18, 25-9, 25-18 in the first round.
“Earlier in the year they would have beaten us in three (games) and the third game would have been by 10 (points),” Millanes said. “They’ve grown so much over this year. I couldn’t be more proud with the effort they gave tonight.”
Hamilton setter Zach Melcher was bothered by a back injury he suffered last week, which affected the Huskies.
He would leave the match regularly to get stretched out by a trainer but did finish.
“He’s a warrior,” Bader said. “He’s not going to be able to move tomorrow.”
Melcher may be hindered the rest of the state tournament but Bader expects him to keep playing.
The Huskies got a lift from middle blocker Mike McPherson, who added another dimension to Hamilton’s well-known 1-2 punch of Kevin Gorence and Taua Bader.
J.T. Hatch and Seth Johnson played well to keep Mesa in contention. The Jackrabbits stayed competitive until the end despite the long odds following the losses in the first two games.
The team’s stacked schedule helped it prepare for this spot, Millanes said.
“We played Highland twice, Gilbert twice, Corona, Deer Valley,” he said. “We played all the great ones, so seeing them wasn’t really a shock. We let some things slip away, but they had a chance to beat us in three (games), so I was happy with the way we battled back.”